Abuse: The Lessons Not Learned
After the Walder horror unfolded, we thought that perhaps the charedi community, generally a few decades behind the rest of society, had learned the necessary lessons. Perhaps many people did. But not everyone.
Two weeks ago, authorities in France arrested the entire faculty of a yeshivah. Sixteen rabbis at Beth Yossef in Bussières were charged, not with sexual abuse, but with aggravated assault against the sixty minors at the yeshivah, including their being “locked up, confiscation of their identity documents, poor conditions, acts of abuse, lack of access to education and healthcare, and no possibility of returning to their families.” Vos iz Neias News quotes multiple students as saying that they were severely physically beaten.
Now, I don't know exactly what happened, but it is obvious that there are, at the very least, serious grounds for great concern. But according to one sector of Orthodox society, it's all an anti-religious conspiracy.
The Lehovin newspaper represents the most extreme sector of Lithuanian charedi Jewry in America. Under the leadership of Rav Aharon Shechter of Chaim Berlin, they are kin with the Etz/Peleg faction in Israel. And the latest issue has much to say about the situation in France.
The newspaper insists that it is inconceivable to think that talmidei chachamim could be guilty of abuse:
"A talmid Chochom and tzaddik, well into his eighties, who has been moser nefesh to be mechanech and megadel talmidim, was locked up like a criminal... Talmidei chachomim who are devoting themselves to teaching Torah and raising talmidim, were all thrust into prison on “allegations” and “suspicions" ...Do a cheshbon hanefesh for a moment. If you even believed the possibility of their guilt, you have violated many grave sins. If you are unsure, hilchos shemiras haloshon should be on your urgent “to do” list."
Dismissing the accusations of physical abuse as "vague," Lehovin engages in a tirade about what they claim this is really about - that the yeshiva refuses to teach evolution and have mixed classes! And it's all part of the Global War Against Torah.
I had decided not to write about this, because I figured that it was of limited relevance; Lehovin represents a minority group that is opposed and ridiculed even by most charedim. But then I read some other things which made me realize how widespread a problem this is.
Recently a prominent Rosh Yeshiva was arrested for raping various young men and women, including his own children. A person from Magen who was involved in helping the victims was discussing the story, and someone mentioned that after the Walder affair, they met a woman from the charedi community who said that such a thing could never happen with a real rabbi. This woman was absolutely scandalized at the notion that a genuine rabbi could possibly ever commit such crimes, and ridiculed the possibility.
This is why Rabbi Meiselman's insistence that Walder was not a true charedi and not a true talmid chacham is so dangerous. It reinforces the false and dangerous yet pervasive belief that "real rabbis" cannot do evil. In an extremely powerful letter written by a survivor of Walder, she addresses Rav Aaron Lopiansky's call to address the fatal problem of the "halo effect" - the mistaken notion that someone who does good, cannot possibly be bad. She points out that this "mistaken notion" is absolutely fundamental to charedi society and is not going to disappear. Emunas Chachomim, in its absolute broadest sense, is the bedrock of the charedi world. They are not about to change their entire approach and start teaching that roshei yeshiva can be rapists.
And this is why the charedi community is a pedophile's paradise.
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